Before headlining the Amsterdam Bar & Hall last Friday, Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy stopped by The Current for a casual, wide-ranging conversation with Jay Gabler.
Allison recently released a new single, “lucy,” her first new music of 2019. The song is noticeably darker in both tone and content than previous Soccer Mommy recordings, and the young singer-songwriter says she is delving into deeper waters with the music she’s releasing in the wake of her breakout album Clean (2018). The pair also discussed Allison’s Nashville roots, the importance of good art direction, and the Boss’s astrological sign.
Jay Gabler: New season, new song; “lucy” is out on a new record label.
Sophie Allison: Yes, new record label. I’m very happy.
Well, congrats on the new music. I like the idea that you took the idea of fighting your own demons and turned it into a series of literal images. I gather that “Lucy” could be short for…
Lucifer, yes. It is about the devil. A lot of people thought it was about Lucy Dacus. She actually posted on her [Instagram] story today, “Stop asking if this song is about me; it’s not, I’m pretty sure it’s about the devil.”
People always want to find beef.
Yes, they do.
It made me think of a Tegan and Sara song, “Walking with a Ghost,” which, according to what Sara said when I saw them in concert once, was actually the other way around [from “lucy”] where she wrote it about a literal ghost, and then someone on their team was like, “I hear a metaphor here. Maybe we should put this on the record.”
They were probably like, “Sure, it’s about a real ghost, but whatever.”
So you told Teen Vogue that the songs you’ve been writing lately aren’t as much about relationships as your past songs have been, but more about family relationships and your relationship with yourself, getting into some mental health issues. Can you talk more about the kinds of songs you’ve been working on?
There’s one love song on the album, and it’s really more about how my own issues affect my romantic relationships, and how I can feel that and see that. A lot of it is way more about the things I’ve been going through with my mental health and also sickness in my family. My mother has been sick for ten years, basically. I’m in a happy relationship, so I don’t have a lot of feelings on relationships as much as I used to, and I feel more secure in that so I delved into deeper, long-lasting issues in my life.
Having seen you in Iceland I feel like the new track captures more the sound of your live band — a little swampier, a little rockier.
Yeah, I think so too. [“Lucy”] is one we’ve been playing live for a while now, so it’s really nice to get to see it come out because it’s a step in the new direction.
Was it pretty much recorded live in the studio, or was there a lot of separate tracking?
For every song we did a basic tracking of four of us playing a live take, and then added on top of [the original recording] so [the new songs] all have a live take at the base of them.
And [“lucy”] comes with a lyric video that is Matrix-inspired. You’ve got a shirt here that’s X-Files.
[The video] is also very X-Files-inspired. I actually sent my art director a lot of screen shots from X-Files of them using the computer and looking at some file that’s got sound waves or something in it. I was like, “That looks so cool.” I was just sending these random screenshots because I’ve been re-watching.
You’ve been tweeting about the importance of art direction and getting that aspect of a project just right.
I feel like I had a lot of trouble on [Clean] getting it all right. I’m just not an artist so it’s hard for me to — even if I have all these visions — help someone else create them. I just don’t even know how to describe what I’m thinking. But I do get really frustrated about that. It’s one of the most irritating things to me when the art doesn’t look right.
But you’re happy with the way things came together around this single?
Yes, I’m very happy with this new one.
Are you into the Keanu [Reeves] renaissance, speaking of The Matrix?
There’s going to be a new Matrix.
There’s going to be a Matrix 4.
Yes, with Keanu.
I’m buying my tickets now.
I’m really excited. I watched The Matrix on a plane recently and it got me back into The Matrix, I hadn’t seen it in years. I might do a Matrix Halloween thing. This is my first Halloween in three years.
Your first Halloween where you actually get to celebrate Halloween, you mean?
Yes, where I get to celebrate and it’s my favorite holiday so I’m really psyched.
Because you’re going to be on a break between tour legs, right?
Yes. I have literally been on tour every Halloween driving or something, like something boring, and not been able to do anything. So I’m really excited for Halloween.
But fortunately there is Stardew Valley.
There is Stardew Valley, and that saves me on tour. I can just go play that for hours in the van, so amazing.
Do you ever think when you’re playing a video game like that on tour — what if they made an interactive video game like that about the touring life?
That would be so cool. I always think it would be so cool if I could make a Soccer Mommy [game] where you would have to make it to the gig and go play a concert, and have to go fight demons after or something cool. Buffy meets a rock band.
I’ll start saving my bitcoin now. So you’ve been doing a series of headlining dates and you’re about to head out and open some shows for Vampire Weekend and Wilco. You’ve done headlining shows and you’ve opened for some big artists in the past, [like] Paramore. How is it different for you going out there in front of a crowd that’s absolutely there for Soccer Mommy, and a crowd that’s there for Wilco and, “Oh, who’s this opening up?”
It’s very different. I think I’ve gotten very comfortable with both now. It’s really easy to be comfortable with your own fanbase because they’re going to love you for whatever you do. Occasionally you get kind of a weird crowd where you have to warm them up because they’re being too polite or something and it’s not really fun. I mean, I love playing big headlining shows [and] my fans are really awesome and they always seem like they’re really into the music. And [headlining shows] usually do well; we usually sell a good amount of tickets.
But I also really like opening because when you’re opening on these big shows you’re getting to play these huge venues, which is a really cool thing. I’m working with a five-piece band now and I feel like it’s much more suited for those types of venues than when we had a four-piece; it’s much fuller. There’s definitely people there [who] do know you —[who] are in the front and they’re excited to see you. But there’s also all these people [who] have never heard your music and it’s great to see people by the end of your set liking your music, you know, when they weren’t really listening to it before and didn’t know they were going to be interested. It also just gives you an opportunity to learn to play in these bigger venues and as you move up, maybe you’ll be playing them [as a] headliner and feel more comfortable with it. I really like both, both are fun.
Having talked to veteran artists in the past, some of them talk about being earlier in their career and doing a lot of opening gigs and forming relationships with the bands that they’re opening for and those [becoming] mentoring relationships that can last for years.
Yeah, totally. I mean, you can learn a lot from people when you’re opening for them and you get to see them perform every night and [they] have mastered playing these kinds of stages. You can learn from watching the behind-the-scenes of it, it’s really cool.
And speaking of people discovering your music, you are on the cover of Spotify’s “All New Indie” playlist right now — you’re literally the face of new indie music.
That’s great, I’m excited.
So as your career and your audience has grown, are there moments like this where you get surprised by someone representing for you or recommending you or turning out [to be] a fan?
There have definitely been a lot of moments like that. I never expected to get a Pitchfork “Best New Music” [designation] when Clean came out. That felt really good because that wasn’t something I ever thought would happen to me, and I was fine with that. It was truly cool to experience that.
There’s also bands that have taken me on tour that I never thought would like my music, like Slow Dive and Paramore and Kacey Musgraves. Wilco, even, is one of my favorite bands ever. It’s really exciting when you get to do stuff like that. I think my first Rolling Stone article was really exciting, too. It feels like a huge step [and like] you’re onto the next level.
Yeah, totally. So I have to ask you about Bruce, because as you may know we have a national holiday coming up on Monday: Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday. I know you covered “I’m On Fire,” and you played it for us in Iceland. Do you connect with that song specifically, or are you a Bruce fan more broadly?
I’m a Bruce fan. My dad always played me Bruce when I was younger and [he] was one of the first artists I really liked when I was four or five. I’ve always loved his music. That song in particular was one that in high school I got really attached to. I liked it when I was a kid, too, but for some reason — I guess I was really lonely in high school and I loved that song. I would do these late night drives back from one of my friends’ houses that was kind of far, and I would always listen to that on the drive. And then in college I started learning it to cover it and I’m still playing it to this day.
Is there anything about Springsteen as a songwriter that you as a songwriter think, “Oh, he nailed that”?
Especially on [Born in the U.S.A.] he gets the teenage romantic nostalgia stuff nailed-down [and] I feel like I have really used [that] in my writing.
I looked this up…with a September birthday, he’s right on the Virgo-Libra cusp. Does that seem right to you?
Yes. What is his birthday?
So he’s a Libra, right? Or is he still in Virgo?
First day of Libra, last day of Virgo?
I wish he was Libra. I prefer Libra over Virgo. I have three Libras in my band, actually. They’re great.
We’ll figure this out and we’ll find out whether Bruce has to be in your band.
We’ll have to figure out where the change over is. [Transcriber’s note: Bruce Springsteen is in fact a Libra.]
I feel like I’ve talked to and listened to so many amazing artists coming out of Nashville. Adia Victoria just played our Rock the Garden show this summer, Julien Baker, Tristen, Caitlin Rose, and now we’ve got this new Ken Burns country music special coming out, which is highlighting Nashville’s history in the country genre.
Having grown up in Nashville and playing [in] more of the indie rock realm, do you feel like you identify with Nashville’s history as a country town, or is Nashville its own thing that’s not defined by whatever country music is or used to be?
I think that Nashville is its own thing and there’s so much going on there. I think that there’s a whole other scene going on there that I grew up in, like a punk/garage rock/psych scene. At the same time, the country definitely leaks in. I think that most people I know also really appreciate country music, and I know a lot of people who play country music and also play in psych bands. I think that even my music has an influence from country.
I sway more towards ‘90s country and alt-country when it comes to influences on my music, or early 2000s country — less of the ‘70s stuff — but I still think that it definitely had an effect on me and I think that’s because I grew up in Nashville and I was around a lot of country music, even if it wasn’t what I was listening to all the time, I heard it everywhere. I think being around that and seeing young indie groups that were playing country/indie stuff too when I was 16, 17 definitely influenced me.
So as your fan base continues to grow, I wonder if you have a name for your fans collectively? Like Mariah Carey has the Lambs, Justin Bieber has the Beliebers…what are Soccer Mommy fans?
I don’t know, what are they? Soccer Babies or something? Is that what they are?
I like it. I think it’s up to you to decide.
I don’t know, I feel like I just refer to them all as like “y’all.” Like that’s who they are, it’s just like “all y’all” on the internet. I feel like I’ve seen Soccer Babies thrown at me before. That’s the only one I can think of that I’ve seen used on the web.
Well, we’ll see if it sticks.
Cool, well I’m proud to be one of All Y’all. Thanks for coming in; I really appreciate it. Congrats on the new music.
Transcript: Lydia Moran
Audio engineer: Jesse Wiza